“The Purge” has quietly become one of the decade’s most successful horror franchises.
This weekend, the fifth and final installment, “The Forever Purge,” feels less like a horror movie than it does a “Sicario”-style action crime thriller set on the Southern border, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, wrapping the franchise on a fittingly political note.
While the 2013 original introduced the clever premise of the U.S. government making all crime legal once a year for 12 hours, “The Forever Purge” explores what would happen if folks didn’t play by the rules. What if a group of lawless killers decided not to stop at daybreak and instead continued pillaging indefinitely along the Texas-Mexico border?
Our protagonists are a couple of Mexican immigrants, Juan (Tenoch Huerta, “Sin Nombre”) and Adela (Ana de la Reguera, “Army of the Dead”), who have fled to Texas to escape a drug cartel. At first, you’ll wonder how Adela became so skilled with a weapon — one character flat out asks her — but her backstory is eventually explained midway through.
The biggest character arc belongs to Dylan Tucker (Josh Lucas, “Ford v. Ferrari”), the patriarch of an upper-middle-class white family on a Texas ranch protecting his pregnant wife Emma Kate (Cassidy Freeman) and sister Harper (Leven Rambin, “Mank”). He is meant as the modern-day equivalent of Rock Hudson’s Bick Benedict in “Giant” (1956).
We watch Dylan grow from a white supremacist who doesn’t allow Spanish spoken in his home to admitting nuance to Juan: “God’s honest truth? I don’t think white people are any better or worse than anybody else. But I do believe we should all just stick with our own and leave each other alone.” “You may be right,” Juan replies, ‘But we are together now.'”
Likewise, Will Patton (“Minari”) delivers a political monologue: “The way the rich get rich off the backs of the poor, the way it’s been ever since we robbed this land from the Native Americans.” This setup is later paid off when a Native American named Xavier (Gregory Zaragoza, “The Last of the Mohicans”) says, “We’ve been fighting this fight for 500 years.”
Patton also confronts the killers with hard truths: “You’ve got no right to complain about the very system you support by picking up that gun and sanctioning the damn Purge!” You know who created The Purge, don’t you? A bunch of fat, rich businessmen in Washington D.C.! So what does that make you? It would make you their lackey and a hypocrite.”
The purgers are blatantly painted like extensions of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrectionists. Villainous trucks drive around with megaphones blaring a warning: “We are the real patriots of America! It is our job to keep this land free and clean! We will no longer tolerate foreigners! … America will be America once again!” The anti-Trump sentiment is clear.
Don’t worry, it’s not all politicking. Mexican filmmaker Everardo Gout (“Days of Grace”) drops in a few jump scares for the horror crowd, devising a terrifying set piece with a cage trap sporting a cow-killing device like Anton Chigurh’s gun in “No Country for Old Men” (2007). At one point, a character says, “Die, you pig,” before slitting a throat like a pig.
As for the action sequences, Gout delivers long tracking shots like “Children of Men” (2006) of the group exiting buildings and moving across the streets of El Paso with military-style maneuvers to evade the purgers. Like the characters, we the audience scan the screen for the familiar image of red roses leading to a network of escape tunnels.
By the climax, we’re not holed up in a panic room but rather high atop the rocky terrain of the border, combining the shootouts of “High Sierra” (1941) with a family escape like “The Sound of Music” (1965). Leaving America is a subversive way for writer James DeMonaco to end the franchise, craning up to a Mexican flag as the antithesis of a July 4 release.
It may be jarring compared to the rest of the franchise. After all, “The Purge: Election Year” (2016) outlawed the crime spree, but “The Forever Purge” reinstates it in brisk opening graphics. As the end graphics roll, we realize the border-crossing finale is the opposite of its claustrophobic original, but branching out is sometimes better than hunkering down.